A Rutgers University professor who was convicted of sexually assaulting her severely disabled pupil was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Friday, the Associated Press reports.
Anna Stubblefield, 46, was the subject of a fascinating story in the New York Times Magazine in October that explored her case; the former chair of the Rutgers philosophy department, Stubblefield was a trained facilitator of a controversial method for communicating with extremely disabled patients called “facilitated communication,” or guided typing. As Natasha Vargas-Cooper wrote in a previous post on Jezebel:
FC depends on the idea that some people don’t have the motor skills to type but with a little physical support they can effectively communicate. Facilitated communication methods range from a facilitator simply holding a keyboard steady while the other person independently types to a facilitator spooning a person’s hand in their own, with their finger placed over the person’s finger. To the naked eye, the latter method can look like the facilitator is just manipulating the person’s hand, like a planchette on a Ouija board.
The victim, a 34-year-old non-verbal man named D.J. who suffers from cerebral palsy, was believed by New York State clinicians to have the mental capacity of a toddler; Stubblefield maintained that he was simply trapped in his body, and through FC was able to give consent to the sexual relationship that developed between them.
According to the Associated Press:
Prosecutors challenged the method of facilitated communication, and psychologists determined that he was mentally incompetent and couldn’t consent to sexual activity.
The judge barred expert testimony on facilitated communication, determining it’s “not a recognized science.”
Stubblefield, who faced a 40-year maximum sentence (prosecutors requested 15 years), plans to appeal the conviction; once released, she will be registered as a sex offender and will remain on supervised parole for the rest of her life.
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